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Korean BBQ is a fun, communal experience of grilling meat right at the dining table.
With the right tools and foods, you can enjoy KBBQ at home instead of a restaurant.
We also had Korean chefs weigh in on the best equipment, marinades, cooking tricks, and more.
Korean barbecue might be my favorite way to grill. More than just a grilling technique, it's a multi-part and multi-sensory social experience, enjoyed among friends and family gathered around the table. If you want to save money on a Korean BBQ restaurant or you don't have one nearby, the KBBQ experience is actually pretty easy to replicate at home.
The basic gist of Korean BBQ is that you cook different cuts of meat in the center of the table, wrap it in a lettuce leaf or piece of rice paper, dip it in a sauce (if it's not already marinated), and eat it alongside a large array of "banchan" (side dishes).
"When you do this at home once, you'll want to make KBBQ at home over and over again," said Bobby Yoon, owner of Korean barbeque restaurant Yoon Haeundae Galbi in New York City.
A checklist for preparing Korean BBQ at home
An indoor, portable grill
Cooking tools and utensils
A variety of meat and vegetables
Sauces and marinades
Alcohol and drinks
We'll go over each part below, along with product suggestions, where to buy ingredients, and cooking tips. With everything prepped and a guest list of hungry friends and family, you're ready for a DIY Korean barbeque night.
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In Korean barbecue, the grill is the center of the experience. It sits in the middle of the table, rather than off to the side, so you can watch and be directly part of the action.
At restaurants, the grill is built into the table, but at home, you can recreate the setup by using a portable butane stove with a grill plate or an indoor portable grill.
You'll also need a pair of cooking tongs to cook and serve the meat, and kitchen scissors to cut the meat into smaller portions. Have a large number of small bowls or dipping trays on hand to serve sauces and the various banchan.
A butane stove is convenient because butane is usually cheaper than propane, but you'll have to make sure you can get your hands on it easily enough. Butane, while considerably cheaper, also burns hotter, so you'll get a better flame out of it.
This grill is a favorite among home KBBQ grillers for its quick and even heat, large size, and easy cleanup process. It's lightweight, so setting up your table won't be difficult.
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Meat and vegetables you need for Korean BBQ
The kinds of meat and vegetables to grill are really up to you — KBBQ is more about the format of communal grilling than the specific foods that you must eat, explained Deuki Hong, the owner of Korean fried chicken spot Sunday Bird in San Francisco and author of "Koreatown: A Cookbook." Hong was also the executive chef at Korean BBQ restaurant Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong in New York City.
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You can make your own sauces and marinades at home, or you can buy premade ones from an Asian grocery store. Both Yoon and Hong recommend the brand CJ Foods for its marinades. One tip from Hong: dilute the marinades with a little water. The flavor can be a little intense so dilution isn't a bad idea. We also love Omsom's spicy bulgogi starter.
As for a dipping sauce, ssamjang is popular. It's made from Korean soybean paste, Korean chili paste, and a handful of pantry staples like garlic, toasted sesame oil, honey, and sesame seeds (here's a recipe to try). Again, you can buy it premade online or at your local Asian market.
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Spicy, savory, and a little sweet, bulgogi sauce is commonly coated over brisket, sirloin, and ribeye, making these meats extra juicy and flavorful.
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How to cook Korean BBQ and tips to bring it to the next level
There's an art to cooking Korean BBQ, including which meats to cook first and how often to flip them on the grill. Hong recommends starting with non-marinated meats and ending at the marinated, most fatty meats. If you start with a marinated, fatty pork first, the heavier flavor will coat the inside of your mouth and make it harder to differentiate among flavors and eat more later.
And though it's fun and tempting to keep flipping the meats, "when cooking beef, you only flip once," said Yoon. Use high heat, cook one side until it browns, then flip it over and cook until medium-rare or medium. Pork is fattier and can get crispier, so he likes to flip it about three times on each side.
Yoon's unique tip to make Korean BBQ extra special is to use a special salt (truffle salt, Japanese sansho salt, or salt and pepper with sesame oil). "You can sprinkle this over the meat when done cooking or even dip the meat just lightly in the salt with each bite," he said.
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Hong recommends grilling unexpected items, like kimchi, and taking advantage of the natural meat juices on the grill. "Grilling kimchi along with your pork belly is so good and I feel [using the pork fat] is a really underrated thing."
Side dishes to go with Korean BBQ
Korean BBQ is as much about the delicious sides as it is about the meat — it simply wouldn't be complete without banchan crowding the table. Often acidic or pickled, banchan is also important because it cuts through the flavor of fatty meats and balances out the whole meal. "The biggest step is making sure that your side dishes are things that really contrast the meat," said Hong.
Some banchan you can make include:
Oi muchim, or spicy cucumber salad (recipe here)
Gamja jorim, or braised potatoes (recipe here)
Kimchi (recipe here or buy it here)
Musaengchae, or sweet and sour radish (recipe here)
Japchae, or stir-fried glass noodles (recipe here)
In general, you can't go wrong with any pickled, crunchy vegetable as a side. Yoon said, "I like vegetables with a good crunch like onion, jalapeno, radish, chayote, even cauliflower and broccoli. The pickling ratio should be 1:1:1 of soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar."
If you don't make them from scratch, you can often find banchan in the hot foods section or refrigerated aisles of a Korean market.
Wash down the salty richness of Korean BBQ with soju, beer, and makgeolli (a Korean rice wine). Online, you can pick up these drinks from services like Drizly.
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Lunar's hard seltzers, with flavors like yuzu and plum, also pair well with the meal. If you prefer a non-alcoholic option, we suggest Sanzo's lychee and calamansi sparkling waters.